A confluence of events have got me thinking about where I am right now in my life, both inside and outside of academia. At the conference this weekend, I was repeatedly asked how I "liked it" where I am right now. I embody the trifecta of complaints in higher education: off the tenure-track, teaching outside my specialty, and in a rural, relatively isolated area. Add to that that I am a Canadian (and Canadianist) relocated to the United States, my current level of professional satisfaction was a topic I was asked to address repeatedly.
I deflected these questions by talking about how happy my kids are, how great my husband's job is, and that I am thankful to have full-time work at the same institution as him. I then talked about reconnecting with those who are in my area of interest and study, finding opportunities to collaborate, even from a distance, and learn new skills. But it felt strange to be around a tight-knit community of scholars, collaborators, and colleagues. I had been going at it alone for so long, I didn't even know, professionally, how to begin reconnecting.
After the conference was over, I was able to meet up with an old friend from high school whom I haven't seen in 15 years. We caught up on each other's lives and the lives of our other friends from high school we each kept in touch with. I seem to be at a phase in my life where previously people I grew up with were getting married and having kids are now getting divorced. As a child of divorce, I know how traumatic a divorce can be for everyone. I also know that sometimes people just don't belong together and it's better for everyone involved, including the kids. It certainly doesn't make it any easier, though. A few years ago, we were full of optimism, getting married and having babies. Now, some of us making the best of bad situations.
These two situations are juxtaposed because I put my personal life before my professional life. I could easily (and sometimes do) resent my husband for the position I am currently in. Academia so narrowly defines success that not being on a tenure-track, not being funded, not being involved in cutting-edge research are considered if not failures, then serious compromises that reflect a lack of dedication to the profession. In another life, I could wake up one day and decide, my marriage is less important than my career, that my happiness depends on a narrow definition of professional success. And, I guess I still could.
But my marriage is good, and my kids are happy, and I have a degree of professional freedom that I probably wouldn't have if I were on the tenure-track. I can experiment with peer-driven learning. I can blog. I can research what I want to and if I do want to share my research in new and innovative ways, I don't have to worry about if it will or won't be viewed by a tenure and promotions committee. And my kids don't care one way or the other if I'm on or off the tenure-track, they just care that I'm happy. When my students tell me that I'm making a difference in their educations and their lives, that makes me happy. And successful.
In academia, no less. Go figure.